Clark still faces an uphill battle against low enrollment, despite efforts by Clark administrators to raise numbers over the summer.
According to Associate Vice President of Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl, Clark’s Fall quarter enrollment saw only a small increase and fell significantly short of the target set by the state for consideration in future budget allocations.
Starting this year, the state budget is determined through a new system which allocates money based on a rolling three-year average of the number of Full-Time Enrollments. Quarterly FTEs are sets of 15 credits taken by certain students, for example, if one student takes 10 credits and another takes five, they add up to one FTE. The state-budget FTEs don’t include running start or international students according to vice president of Instruction Tim Cook.
The rolling three-year average means that the state considers the average enrollment numbers between two and five years ago, so for 2016 the budget is based on the 2013-2015 average. Diehl said the 2015-2016 school year, the first year Clark missed its state-set FTE
target, will first enter the equation next year.
We’re a long way from meeting the state target,” Diehl said. “They want us to make 6,723 state-supported FTEs. We’re only at 5,808, so we’re off by 915.”
If the numbers stay below the target, Clark will start receiving significantly less money from the state. Cook thinks there are several things the college can work on to improve the numbers, starting with a more intuitive process.
“Looking at [recruitment and retention], we need to do a better job of getting students in
here,” Cook said. “We looked at all the barriers for students to get enrolled here, and those have to be fixed to make it easier for students who want to be here to make it happen.”
One other area Clark is targeting is matriculation, or the rate at which students who apply actually enroll and register. This was the point of the enrollment labs offered for three weeks leading up to fall quarter. According to Cook, the key was a hands-on approach.
“You’ve got someone there to greet you,” Cook said. “They can direct you to financial aid or advising or the career center or testing, so that rather than bouncing all around you’re getting individual attention,” Cook said.
While the college can’t officially claim that the labs caused an uptick in enrollment, Cook said they “got a lot of people in and enrolled that we didn’t have before,” and the next step is getting them to stay.
According to Diehl, the main retention effort is College 101, which is now a required class for students seeking transfer degrees.
“Almost 30 percent of students who start one-quarter don’t make it to the next quarter,” Diehl said. “But for College 101 students only about 10 percent don’t actually stay, so that’s about a 20 percent difference. I know all students can benefit from it.”
Administrators also hope that focusing on “high-touch” interactions with students will make them stay. That was the goal of the Penguin Welcome Days leading up to the fall term.
According to Cook, the welcome days were modeled after orientations at four-year colleges, where students “sign up and have a day to come check out the campus and see how things work and meet people.”
Cook pointed out that while the low enrollment isn’t good, Clark is not alone. “It’s not just Clark College, this is happening across the country,” Cook said. “When the economy goes up, [community
college] enrollment goes down.”